Behind the Headlines: Netanyahu Calls on U.S. Jews to Help Make the Israeli Case
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Behind the Headlines: Netanyahu Calls on U.S. Jews to Help Make the Israeli Case

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Striking an emotional and fiery tone, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended his U.S. visit this week with a call to pro- Israel activists to support his brand of peace with security.

But Netanyahu, in a Sunday evening speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and in numerous other public appearances during his five-day visit, went out of his way to praise the United States in spite of disagreements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

“President Clinton is a friend of Israel, make no mistake about it,” he said.

The tone was very different from the defiant one that many expected from the prime minister, whose visit came against the backdrop of tensions between Israel and the United States.

The Clinton administration has been pressing Israel to accept a U.S. plan to restart the long-stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The U.S. proposal calls on Israel to withdraw from a further 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for a series of Palestinian steps to crack down on terrorism.

Acceptance of the proposal would then open the way for the two sides to begin final-status talks, which would address the issues of borders, refugees, settlements and Jerusalem.

But even as he called the president a friend, Netanyahu not so subtly reminded the president that he believes that Israel must determine its security interests.

“All successive American administrations have agreed with us that it is Israel and Israel alone that must determine its security needs, and Israel and Israel alone that must determine its redeployment,” he said.

Continuing efforts by U.S. officials to bridge the gap produced no reported progress. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright concluded a series of meetings with the Israeli premier last week without any signs that the two sides had bridged the gaps.

Albright then summoned Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to brief him in London on Monday on the latest developments, apparently without any progress.

“I cannot say that we have a breakthrough,” State Department spokesman James Rubin said in London after the Monday meeting. “On the contrary, we are working very hard to overcome differences.”

Meanwhile, upon his return to Israel on Monday, Netanyahu denied an Israel Radio report that he had accepted the U.S. proposal.

In what evolved as a stump speech during his visit, Netanyahu stressed repeatedly that Israel could not agree to the U.S. demand because of security considerations.

In several appearances, including a news conference in New York on Sunday prior to leading the city’s Salute to Israel Parade, Netanyahu said the concerns for security were based on what would happen to early warning stations, Israel’s water supply and approaches for Israel’s airports.

The prime minister also said the safety of Israeli schoolchildren traveling on West Bank roads would be jeopardized by a 13 percent withdrawal.

“These are not abstract or tactical or stratagems that we use in order to build up some number,” Netanyahu told some 2,000 cheering AIPAC delegates. “It is a real consideration for real security.”

The AIPAC delegates showered Netanyahu with almost two minutes of cheers and shouts of support as he took the podium. that reception stood in marked contrast to the one he received at an American Jewish Committee gathering here last week, when activists offered Netanyahu a polite but not enthusiastic reception.

In New York, he was greeted warmly when he addressed the Salute to Israel Parade and when he called for Jewish unity at New York’s Park Avenue Synagogue, his first address before a Conservative congregation since becoming prime minister.

But it was for the activists at AIPAC that Netanyahu seemed to save his greatest passion. Netanyahu slammed Arafat’s government, accusing it of orchestrating last week’s riots in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem.

“These were riots that were sponsored and organized by the Palestinian Authority to protest the actual existence, the founding of the State of Israel,” he said of the clashes that resulted in the deaths of at least five Palestinians.

“We cannot ignore such riots because they are not isolated incidents,” Netanyahu said. “They follow a pattern of total disregard of the Palestinian Authority for the commitments and obligations of the Oslo process.”

Netanyahu called on the pro-Israel community to “help make our case” that the Palestinian are not in compliance with their accords with Israel and that only Israel can determine what is in its security interests.

“We’re counting on you,” he said.

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